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The Suburbanite
  • ‘The Life and Mind of ...’ Joe Cortese opens tonight at Acme

  • Recently, Cortese reconnected with one of his old skating buddies, Dylan Atkinson, who invited Cortese to become a partner in his downtown Canton gallery, Acme Artists.

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  • Joe Cortese was an avid skateboarder during his formative years at Central Catholic High School (Class of 1990) and after graduation, until he blew out his knee. Through skating, he discovered an entire counterculture of alternative rock, underground literature, independent cinema and graffiti-inspired art that still invigorates him.
    Recently, Cortese reconnected with one of his old skating buddies, Dylan Atkinson, who invited Cortese to become a partner in his downtown Canton gallery, Acme Artists. The two guys get along famously, Cortese has befriended a slew of local artists, and his first Canton exhibition, “Joe Cortese: The Life and Mind of...,” opens tonight at Acme, at 332 Fourth St. NW.
    Covering the gallery’s walls will be about 50 of his recent works, which blend painting with paint-marker drawing.
    Asked about his artistic style, Cortese says, “Basically it’s a glorified doodle.” When he’s creating art, “I don’t think much about it, I feel like I’m almost along for the ride.”
    For this show, he is making an effort to broaden his artistic approach. “I’m one of those weird artists who likes every style across the board pretty much,” he says. “I’m surprised more artists don’t try more styles. I love Jackson Pollock but once he started splatting, he stayed with splatting. I think you have to keep pushing. I get restless in every aspect of my life. I’ve had about a dozen careers.”
    Born in Naples, Italy, Cortese moved frequently while growing up due to his father’s career as an oncologist, and landed in Canton in time for high school. “I used to be resentful about moving around all the time, but now I’m happy about it,” he says. “I got good life experiences, and I developed a wanderlust.”
    A pivotal experience for Cortese was the two years he spent teaching middle-school art on Cape Cod. “Teaching got under my skin in the best way. There’s a lot of clock-punchers out there but I see it as a privilege,” he says. “I love the open-endedness of art, and I love conveying that to kids. I felt validated every time one of my students would make something surprising and amazing.”
    Immersing himself in making artwork was healing for Cortese after he and his wife divorced. “I always preached the therapeutic value of art but I’d never experienced it before,” he says. “I’d never experienced pain and depression on that level. This sense of enjoyment and exploration and newness that I felt as a kid, but hadn’t felt in so long, came back to me through art.”
    Cortese is devoted to keeping his artwork reasonably priced. “For me the idea of someone wanting to hang something of mine in their house and stare at it is pretty flattering,” he says. “Art should be affordable. But I do need to eat, obviously.”